MDF’s Winter Range and Migration Corridor Initiative
We all know that deer move a lot across our vast western landscapes and that seasonal habitat like winter range is a critical part of their annual lifecycle. These movements, often called migrations, can be obvious or not so obvious depending on time, route, and number of animals using a certain area. Historically, deer managers relied on professional observation and historic records to identify these movement and migration routes but lacked specific information on how many animals used certain routes, how the routes were used by moving animals, and how animals reacted to impacts to these routes. However, over the last decade scientific knowledge has increased dramatically about how significant migrations are to the health of mule deer and black-tailed deer herds. With new GPS technology allowing more frequent and accurate data from collars, scientists are able to map how deer move throughout the year and where the critical habitats are along those corridors.
Conservation efforts to improve big game migration corridors and seasonal ranges in the West took a major leap in February 2018, when then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362 at MDF’s Western Hunting and Conservation Expo. In the first two years of the SO 3362 implementation, the U.S. Department of the Interior and partners like MDF facilitated 73 projects across 11 states with more than $47 million being invested from federal and matching grants in state-identified priority research projects, data analysis and mapping assistance, habitat-related projects, and other activities. Even more work has happened on the ground since the first progress report was released in 2020.
Shortly after SO 3362 was signed, MDF created its Winter Range and Migration Corridor Initiative, to assist with the implementation of the order and to partner with agencies, landowners, and others to ensure conservation of these important areas. MDF has been a leader in both the policy efforts to implement the secretarial order as well as coordinating habitat conservation and restoration efforts. Making sure that mule deer and black-tailed deer have quality habitat in the areas where they need it the most throughout the year will always be a top priority for our organization. Since the inception of the Winter Range and Migration Corridor Initiative, MDF has received over $2 million in grants to help with capacity and on-the-ground projects. This $2 million has been leveraged at least 1:1, making the total benefit to deer winter range and migration corridors well over $4 million! Our investment of time, funding, and expertise has helped establish MDF as the leader on this important conservation issue.